The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

International perspectives and broadening horizons

Gareth D Morewood reflects on his latest international conferences, sharing lessons from the inspirational contacts he has made during the last few weeks. 

I have been very fortunate over the last few years, not only to gain some amazing insights and experiences in UK schools and settings but also further afield. 

The international perspectives I have gained are some of the most enlightening of my 25 years working with young people, families and professionals to date. 

Two recent experiences have made a significant impact on my own understanding of education and provision for young people with additional needs. 

The Hague, The Netherlands

I was asked to speak at the British School in the Netherlands staff conference last month; a school with over 800 staff receiving a range of training and support through an impressive program of keynotes, workshops and discussions.

This was possibly the biggest INSET day I’ve ever been involved with, and the organisation was fantastic.

The event was truly immense. I think two things really struck me:

  • the growing importance of SEND within, what used to be, mainstream educational events
  • the difference that international education affords teachers, free from some of the accountability mechanisms in the UK.

For me it is always a pleasure to be part of such events, but even more so when considering that there is an important place for SEND sessions as part of a wider educational event. 

I was fortunate to deliver three workshops:

  • emotional regulation and low arousal
  • the importance of language in accessing the curriculum
  • effective partnerships with support staff.

Each session was packed, and it was fantastic to chat informally with staff during breaks.

Widening contacts 

Aside from my sessions (which readers will have heard enough about over the last few years, I'm sure!) some of my highlights were meeting and listening to other educators and speakers who I ‘know’ from twitter and other published works, but had never met. 

Growing your professional discourse and gaining an increased understanding of teaching and learning is a vital area for all of us

This is another real positive and I think readers will appreciate widening their contacts and exposure to their work as well.

Tom Sherrington

Tom Sherrington (@teacherhead) delivered a workshop about Rosenshine’s seminal Principles of Instruction

Although I was unable to attend (as I was speaking at the same time), chatting the evening before and during the event was a fantastic experience for me.

From the discussions we managed, I would very much recommend Tom’s books and website. Although aware of his work prior to the event, discussions ‘in-the-flesh’ really do make an impact. 

I would also recommend downloading this fantastic poster illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli (@olicav). 

Growing your professional discourse and gaining an increased understanding of teaching and learning is definitely a vital area for all of us.

Mark Anderson

It was also a pleasure to meet Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) someone who has worked in schools close to my roots and was a great person to chat with on the bus to and from the event. 

Again, as I was speaking at the same time, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend any of Mark’s sessions, but the use of technology (appropriately) is something that I find really interesting, especially from a SEND perspective. 

Whilst we have used technology to support our students I am interested in knowing more about appropriate ways of supporting the young people with whom we work. More to come here, for sure!

Natasha Devon

Natasha Devon (@_NatashaDevon) delivered the opening keynote; a fabulous balance of humour, engaging and entertaining, whilst ensuring a very clear and serious message was received. 

This reminded me of the need to remember individuals within our schools and not lose sight of the fact that there are many competing factors for young people today, especially with regard to body image and identity. 

To lose sight of this whilst ploughing on with the curriculum is to do a real disservice to the whole child. For me, a balance must always be sought.

Non-traditional approaches to SEND 

This event was a timely reminder to me that whilst ‘traditional’ SEND approaches were important (for example, autism and ADHD training) cognitive science, appropriate use of technology and not forgetting the whole child are vital in educating the children who attend our schools, either in the UK or further afield. 

Odense, Denmark

After a few days back in school I was packing again for the SIKON autism conference in Odense.

This was a massive event again with 900 delegates in an amazing purpose-built conference and entertainment centre. 

Dean Beadle

As the 900 delegates filled the pea-green seats, we were entertained by the fabulous Dean Beadle (@deanbeadleuk).

Although I know Dean well, I have never heard him sing before; his performances were amazing and really got the event off to a cracking start. 

Peter Vermeulen

Again, the amazing benefit of speaking at such events is being able to connect and listen to others. 

One of the highlights of this trip was meeting Peter Vermeulen (@Peter_Autisme). We enjoyed a good chat the evening before and listening to his keynote the next day was so powerful. 

Peter’s work has been translated into many different languages and his calm, engaging and informative style draws you into a world of real expertise.

I will be writing more about Peter’s work and what I have learnt separately at a later date.

Ellen Vallentin Christiansen

During the conference meal (it was quite amazing seeing the seating turned into long tables and 900 people served a three-course dinner!) I was fortunate to meet Ellen Vallentin Christiansen (@RainwomanDK), an autistic graphic designer who also delivers presentations and workshops in Denmark. 

Chatting with Ellen was really amazing; I am lucky to learn lots from others, but her perspective was truly inspiring.

Ellen provided me with some very thought-provoking conversations. These words in particular have stuck with me:

'My challenge is to understand the world and make the world understand me. They consist in explaining to people my challenges without being looked down on, without losing my dignity and without losing my right and ability to manage my own life and make decisions as I feel and think is best for me.'

Closing words

I hope readers enjoy exploring the connections and links from some truly inspirational people I have been fortunate to meet in the last few weeks.

In good style, I think we should sign out with Dean's fabulous performance of Rebel Yell from Odense!

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